PCA Membership Vows, Part 4
In the year 1776, the United States was changed forever. We would no longer be a group of colonies, for in the stroke of signatures at the gathering of the 2nd Continental Congress, a nation was born. What began as insurrection in 1775, was codified by declaration in 1776. Men were called to arms, and in doing so, soldiers had to take an oath swearing “to be true to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies and opposers whatsoever; and to observe and obey the orders of the Continental Congress, and the orders of the Generals and officers set over me by them.” America was “set apart” as a distinct nation. You can hear the resolve and promise in the soldiers’ oath to this new cause. It was the birth of a new life. As we attend to the third vow, we hear a bit of the same resolve and promise in what is effectively spiritual warfare. We are born to a living hope in Christ Jesus. This is the glorious gospel of the second vow, but we must not stop there. In the first and second vows, we are humbled in that we are hopeless sinners, incapable of saving ourselves, and are left to the mercy of Jesus Christ alone for our salvation. All of this takes place outside of our own strength and resolve. It is the work of Christ alone. He has not only redeemed us, but he has commands for us in this new life.
The third vow is, “Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ?” In our salvation from death and sin, we have been set apart and called to a new way of living. And the order is important. We don’t have the resolve or the ability to fight sin until we have Christ. In a very real sense, we have a new General, and we are vowing to give ourselves wholly to his command over our lives. And our General calls us to arms. He calls us into a battle against an enemy who is waging war against us. We are vowing to enter into this fight with a deep resolve. Listen to the language of Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.” Later, in Ephesians 6, Paul uses similar language when he says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” We are engaged in warfare within our very beings. We have a new Commander who calls us to fight against sin.
What does this new life look like? It is called sanctification, where we are set apart unto holiness and righteousness. The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines sanctification as, “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (WSC, 35). It is a seek and destroy mission. The enemy is sin, and we show it no quarter. We are not called to simply repress it, hide it, ignore it, or find a way to work around it. Colossians 3:5 tells us that our stance toward sin is to “put to death earthly desires.”
The battle is exhausting—I know! Do we seriously have to fight sin all our lives? Unequivocally, this is the call for the Christian: FIGHT! But herein lies the difference between the second and third vows: whereas the second vow calls us to rest in Christ alone for our salvation, the third vow calls us to action. Surely, we feel our weakness in this fight. We sin with ease and sometimes feel like throwing up our hands and saying, “Who can do this?” The Apostle Paul faced the same struggle—“Wretched man that I am! Who can deliver me from this body of death” (Romans 7:24)? The power needed for the battle is not our own but is found in the work of the Holy Spirit who now lives in us. We are not alone in this battle because we have the very presence of God dwelling in us.
We rely on the Holy Spirit. We rely on him to expose our wicked ways so that we can engage in the outworking fruit of hating our sin. What, then, does it look like to live out this vow? Repentance! When our sin is exposed, we must confess it. As Christians, we can’t live life solely in that first confession of sin which brought us before the cross of salvation—we must live the whole of life repenting and fighting against sin. This is the great endeavor to which we are called. It is the way of holiness and conformity to the image of God and the very meaning of being Christlike— “and we all, with unveiled face, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
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